Wildcrafting and Gathering - a how to guide
5 Tips for Collecting Materials
My inspiration was my grandmother from Lithuania. She was a very earthy person. Although she lived in the suburbs on New York City she carved out for herself a tiny, suburban homestead. A garden that produced copious amounts, fruit, flowers and trees, all on about 1/8 of an acre.
She and my grandfather would drive to the countryside and collect bits of the forest and meadows and categorize them in jars and boxes in a way that would amaze even a professional botanical collector. She used these "nature treasures" as we called them, to create miniature fantasy worlds and bring a bit of woodland art into peoples homes.
Plus, she made a lot of money doing it.
I've inherited the lot of seeds and pods that she left behind and I've added to it through the years. I have an impressive array of items, although some of them would only be impressive to true nature lovers. ("What is THAT?"...quote from my then 9 yr. old daughter about a tree fungus - as she can't imagine anything that isn't pink being of any true crafting worth).
TIP 1: The rules of collection (boring but obligatory) Of course it goes without saying that you must be careful where you collect. There are so many rules to follow these days when it comes to federal and state land. Also, my especial pet peeve, please don't trample on the flora and fauna! I hate to see people wander off the paths carelessly and trample sweet wildflowers, some of them endangered. And speaking of endangered, KNOW what is endangered and don't pick it!
So what can you do? Go into field and meadows, woodlands and beaches and glean. Train your eye to spot treasures, better yet train a younger child to go with you, my kids usually find better things than I do!
TIP 2: Don't go anywhere without a bag! Always have a collecting bag in your vehicle. There's nothing so disappointing as to find the mother-load of gorgeous shells, that you've been searching for all your life and realize that you don't even have a proper bag to put them in! (This happened to me once and I actually put them in my shirt and rolled it up, apron style, dripping with sand and ocean goo. Went to lunch with a ruined the shirt, but I didn't care! I had my shells! TIP 3: Train your significant other You must train your husband/partner! This is very important! They must learn to appreciate your habit of yelling "STOP THE CAR" as you then jump out and pick up a meaningless looking birch branch and then walk back to the car as you had just found a discarded diamond tiara. Teach them to appreciate why you pick up "yard waste". Because sometimes my nature treasures roll around in the trunk for a while before I remember to take them out, creating an untidy trunk atmosphere. Hubby used to complain about this but I've trained him and now he almost never complains ("You want dinner when we get home tonight dear?"). In fact, I think it's amuses him.
TIP 4: Organizing your treasures I put all my collections, when perfectly dry (moldy natural materials. = sneeze city!), into plastic lettuce and produce boxes or mason jars. Recycle! Don't go all OCD with your organization and buy new stuff from the container store! Just make sure whatever you put them in is clear, there is nothing so frustrating as searching through containers looking for that perfect acorn cap for your newest pinecone fairy. Cardboard boxes are not so great because of this reason. TIP 5: What do you do with all this CRAP? (Quote taken directly from an Uncle that had to carry an entire truckload of it after I inherited my grandmothers collection)
People have asked me how I "think" of things to do with these bits of nature treasure and I always reply, "I stare". Yes, for me the secret of crafting with nature is to stare at my item as one would stare at a cloud. The cloud offers up a shape and your mind makes that shape into a familiar object. It's the same with materials from nature. Two teasels remind me of the shape of a deer, The inside half of a nut reminds me of an owl, and so on. So I pick up anything of interest on my walks because I know that it will offer up it's design idea later, even if it looks like nothing but a stick at the moment.
Back in the 70's, during the hippy movement, hand crafts had a renaissance. It was an earthy, eco-based era. The big box stores had not come on the scene yet and people were very into anything that helped them get in touch with nature or used materials that were recycled. Crafting was "pure" back then. As time moved on and China moved in, Crafting supplies became a huge business. Small craft supply shops died out and giant behemoths moved in to take their places. That earthy era died for a time while prepacked plastic kits and non imaginative crafts dominated.
Now we are moving back towards a more natural vibe. Green is fashionable once again. Words like sustainable and eco-friendly are the crowd pleasing phrases. And it's about time...